North Hempstead extends hours, trains additional staff for tax rush

North Hempstead extends hours, trains additional staff for tax rush
Town of North Hempstead residents rushed to pay their taxes before the end of the year, including lining up outside. (Photo by Rebecca Klar)

The streets surrounding Town of North Hempstead Town Hall are lined with parked cars.

Groups of residents await in the Town Hall board room, makeshift Post-it ticket in hand, for their numbers to be called.

They’re all there for one reason — to pay their taxes. A week that tax receivers usually have for the holidays was instead the busiest of the year with 9-5 office hours set for both Saturday and Sunday

“Everyone here seems to be handling a frustrating experience with grace and patience,” said Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth.

But it could all be for naught. The Internal Revenue Service issued a statement Wednesday saying that property taxes can only be pre-paid if that property had been assessed in 2017. Payments based on estimates or for years further in the future will likely not be accepted.

“We don’t know what the IRS is going to decide,” said Vicki DiStefano, a spokesperson for the Town of North Hempstead. “It does seem that as long as it’s not a prepayment that is assumed, and is the actual assessment, it should be okay.”

Under the new federal tax bill, deductions on state and local property tax deductions will be capped at $10,000, an insufficient amount for many Long Island residents.

But the bill does not go into effect until New Year’s Day, leading to a run on the tax offices. Many offices, including North Hempstead’s, will be open from 9 to 5 on Saturday and Sunday.

Governors in several states with high local taxes — including New York and New Jersey — authorized the pre-payment of property taxes almost as soon as President Donald Trump signed the tax bill into law. Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order last week to allow pre-payments.

While some counties, like Nassau, were able to provide 2017 assessments to residents, others were not as fortunate. Westchester County officials announced Tuesday that property assessments would not be ready in time.

It’s been a whirlwind week for both town officials and residents.

Town of North Hempstead officials said the 311 line have received more calls in the last week than they did during the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.

Residents are in a rush to pay their general and property taxes, and town spokeswoman Carole Trottere said the town is averaging 1,000 taxpayers per day through the offices.

As of Thursday afternoon, more than 500 people had been through the waiting room.

After about 100 people lined up outside the office Thursday morning to pre-pay taxes, Bosworth said she couldn’t let her residents stand out in the bitter cold.

The Town of North Hempstead created a temporary satellite office for residents to pre-pay their 2018 general and property taxes. (Photo by Amelia Camurati)

The town has since set up a satellite office in the main town hall building with five tax assessors in addition to the assessors in Receiver of Taxes Charles Berman’s office across the street.

“Dozens of town employees from other departments have been trained to process tax payments in order to assist Tax Receiver’s office employees,” Bosworth said. “We’ve called in many employees from vacations to help out with a variety of needs. It’s been a huge team effort as we all assist with answering questions, direct customers where to go, answer phone calls and get the most updated information into the hands of our residents.

Berman said that North Hempstead would request that the state reimburse the town for overtime costs due to the tax office staying open late and on the weekend.

Trottere said Berman, who typically oversees the process, has pitched in to help during the rush.

“It’s all hands on deck over here,” Trottere said.

During the weekend before Christmas, Trottere said many town employees were in their offices figuring out Nassau County’s final tax numbers to prepare for the rush on Tuesday.

People in all sorts of positions have been helping with the overflow, with employees passing out handwritten numbers to residents in the waiting room to others taking the groups from the waiting room to the different offices.

Residents can also skip the lines, which have caused some residents to wait up to two hours, and pre-pay their taxes online. a 2.35 percent credit card fee or a $2 electronic check fee will be added to the balance.

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